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Whilst many Western countries have long outlawed the practice of home burial, here in the UK it is still legal.

Television presenter Kirsty Allsop recently told the Independent how she and other family members buried her late mother in her parents’ back garden.

Home burial is illegal in many countries because amateurish digging and interring can contaminate the water table or interfere with utility cables or pipes.

In the UK families seeking to bury a loved one at home cannot act independently but must first contact the Environment Agency for formal permission, which consists of a permit and burial record as well as a procedure to follow for interment. The burial site cannot be close to a ditch or water source.

Furthermore, whereas landed gentry have the space to inter many deceased relatives, the average British homeowner will not be able to bury many, probably only one or two.

Whilst the Natural Death Centre fully support home funerals and burials, they also have a word of advice when it comes time to sell the property. The organisation’s Rosie Inman-Cook writes:

… if a vendor fails to declare the presence of a body or two, then the new home owner would have good justification to successfully obtain permission to exhume, maybe even suing the vendor for the cost of that gruesome process.  However, these properties do sell.  I often wonder, if we all called in the archaeologists, how many of us would discover we have Saxon or Roman remains under our homes? Would that then bother us?

One of the commenters on Kirsty Allsop’s article remembered his family funerals being handled largely at home, except for interment at the local cemetery, until 1950.

He wrote of a British experience, but it was also widespread in the United States.

My grandparents and their friends were accustomed to laying out the deceased at home for a day or two and receiving visitors during that time. A rota of family were on hand from morning until late evening to greet those wishing to pay their last respects.

A more recent scene of this practice is in the 1971 film Get Carter — the original, starring Michael Caine — which takes place in Newcastle. Early in the film, Jack (Caine) sees his brother’s body for the last time in his house before the undertakers arrive to put the lid on the coffin and remove it for burial.

Today, of course, most of us are accustomed to no viewing at all (Britain) or a period of open-casket visitation at a funeral home (the US). Whatever the custom, the undertaker generally takes care of everything.

It is surprising — even with cremation — how expensive funerals can be here and elsewhere. I know of a recent one in the US where cremation and related costs amounted to $3,500 versus $13,000 for body burial at a pre-purchased cemetery plot two hours away. (The plot had been purchased 60 years beforehand, so does not figure in the costs cited here.)

Therefore, it is no wonder that those who can are increasingly opting for home burial. It won’t be for everyone — either practically or emotionally — but many in Britain are glad they have the freedom to go ahead with a plan that makes them feel closer to their loved one. As the Natural Death Centre says, it can also help with the grieving and healing process.

July 15 is St Swithun’s Day in England.

Although this great bishop died on July 2, 862 — the date of death normally determines the feast day — his burial place was changed a century later on July 15, after he was canonised.

It is this translation — change, movement — of burial place which is behind the legendary saying which predicts 40 further days of whatever weather occurred on July 15.

Britannia Biographies tells us that Swithun was one of the most learned men of his time. He spent his ministry in Winchester, first at the monastery attached to the cathedral, later becoming the prior there, then as bishop of the diocese.

However, Swithun was also well known for the churches he had built in areas where there had been none and for repairing existing churches which had become damaged.

Swithun also had a bridge built in the eastern part of Winchester. He used to sit nearby in an effort to encourage the workmen there. One day, malicious workmen on the site broke a basket of eggs belonging to an elderly woman. Swithun is said to have miraculously restored the eggs.

Swithun also mixed in royal circles, acting as tutor for King Aethelwulf of Wessex as well as his son, who later became King Alfred. Aethelwulf had to fight off invading Danes; despite this, he was known for his wise rule. He was also very religious and intent on spreading the Christian faith throughout Wessex. His youngest son, Alfred, was able to repel further Danish invasions by negotiating the Danelaw in 886, which partitioned England and gave Danes control over the eastern regions of Anglia and parts of Mercia. Alfred is also known as the Father of the English Navy. He codified law and translated Latin books into Anglo-Saxon. His rule was such that he is known as Albert the Great, and visitors to Winchester can see his statue there.

Therefore, evidence of Swithun’s influence can be seen through these kings’ lives. In the 10th century, Winchester Cathedral — previously dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul — was rededicated to their beloved, holy bishop.

Incidentally, Vic the Vicar! has the readings for Swithun’s feast day.

As for the weather legend, prior to his death, Bishop Swithun left instructions that he be buried in the cathedral grounds:

where ‘passers by might tread on his grave and the sweet rain from heaven might wet his grave’.

After his canonisation 100 years later, a golden shrine to Swithun’s memory was erected in Winchester Cathedral and his remains were translated — moved, transferred — there in 971. It had already been raining too frequently for the cathedral workers to transfer his remains near July 2, so this was done on July 15.

The ensuing legendary 40 days of rain caused the people of Winchester at the time to assume that Swithun’s spirit was most unhappy at being transferred from a humble resting place outdoors to a gilded one inside the cathedral.

Although this became a local legend initially, it spread throughout England and continues to be well known today. The ancient rhyme is as follows:

St. Swithun’s day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
St. Swithun’s day, if thou be fair,
For forty days ’twill rain na mair.

Britain’s Met Office told the Daily Mirror on St Swithun’s Day 2014 that there is no truth to this prediction:

“While the story is compelling, it’s not entirely backed up by historical records and, similarly, when it comes to the weather folklore it’s not backed up by weather statistics.

“Numerous studies have been carried out on past weather observations and none of them have proved the legend true. In fact, since the start of records in 1861, there have neither been 40 dry or 40 wet days following the corresponding weather on St Swithin’s Day.”

However, note that their data deal only with 1861 to the present. Who knows what happened before then?

In fact, several European countries have a similar saying relating to their own saints. In France, it is St Gervais Day (July 19). In Germany, Seven Sleepers Day (July 7), commemorating a group of young martyrs from 3rd century Ephesus, is said to determine the weather for the next seven weeks.

In what used to be Flanders — today’s northern Belgium — the month of July was known as Wedermaend, which means ‘month of storms’.

It would seem, therefore, that there is some truth to these sayings and legends.

WeatherOnline takes a different line to the Met Office. Perhaps the Met should read their informative article on the jet stream and European summer weather. Excerpts follow (emphases in the original, purple highlight mine):

Whoever told the story about the St. Swithun’s day saying was obviously well aware that summer weather patterns establishing by the beginning to the middle of July tend to be persistent throughout the coming few weeks. In fact this is statistically true in 7 to 8 out of 10 years.

The meteorological interpretation is quite straightforward. The position of the frontal zone around the end of June to early July, indicated by the position of the jet stream, determines the general weather patterns (hot, cold, dry, wet) for the rest of the summer. Like a little stream in its bed, the frontal zone tends to ‘dig in’ shortly after the summer solstice.

Try and prepare your own summer forecast with our expert maps. The 500mbar maps usually give a good idea about the position of the frontal zone. Have a look at them over the next two weeks and produce a DIY summer forecast valid until mid-August with a confidence of 70 to 80%.

No wonder the St. Swithun’s day rule is also know in other western European countries.

I shall try forecasting and report back at the end of August! Here’s WeatherOnline‘s map from July 16, 2014:

Height/Temp. 500 hPa GFS We 16.07.2014 12 GMT

A post I wrote for Orphans of Liberty today looks at the effect women bishops will have on the popularity and membership of the Church of England (CofE).

What follows is a summary of that post.

First, there is the matter of how the victory was engineered. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that he’d received pressure from the government for the Synod to approve women bishops. Welby was ready to dissolve the Synod and reconvene it for another vote on the matter had it been defeated on July 14, 2014. In other words, keep voting until you get the ‘right’ result.

Second, no scriptural arguments were used, or at least these were not made public. Persuasion revolved around cultural norms and bringing the CofE into line with the 21st century.

Third, a number of Synod members who had voted against women bishops in 2012 changed their minds this year because they feared being deselected from the next Synod or were tired of the grief they received from people in their diocese.

It is clear that the CofE is increasingly moving away from scriptural tenets. The co-founder of Orphans of Liberty — and one of my readers — James Higham has written an excellent essay exploring why and how England’s established (state) church is failing.

Women bishops won’t fix a thing. (Women priests didn’t.) Nor will allowing single-sex church wedding ceremonies, which may well be a topic at the next Synod. Nor will support of euthanasia.

The CofE has become merely another social club which goes along with popular culture — the world — at every turn.

Who wants to get out of bed on a Sunday when one can get the same talking points from the media?

As I said at Orphans of Liberty, a small number of people will continue to go to other denominations or to independent churches which are faithful to the Bible.

Sadly, many more will choose to leave the Church altogether.

The CofE’s USP is its frequent Communion services. However, it is difficult to receive the Sacrament from a priest who embraces the world so fully, as many of our clergy do.

Yet, even there, Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states:

… Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

That said, the Anglican Church is expected to depose such clergy. Article XXVI concludes:

Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

It should come as no surprise that the CofE considers the Thirty-nine Articles as ancient history to be disregarded.

Much the same way they consider Holy Scripture: old-fashioned and out-of-date.

After two days in Yorkshire ‘up hill, down dale’, Stage 3 of the Tour de France’s 2014 concluded in London, along the Mall near Buckingham Palace.

The Guardian carried glowing reviews — along with a selection of photos — of Stage 3 which began in the heart of Cambridge and continued through picturesque villages in Essex prior to hitting the nation’s capital.

The paper’s Sean Ingle reported:

On the final day of the English Grand Départ, crowds were similar in volume to those in Yorkshire, against a contrasting backdrop, with Cambridge’s King’s Parade first up, then cornfields, village greens and half-timbered houses giving way eventually to ranks of suburban houses, the Olympic velodrome and the ArcelorMittal Orbit before the Docklands light railway and the Thames appeared, after which the stage became a high-speed tour of London’s most iconic monuments: Tower Bridge, the Embankment, Big Ben.

In another article, he wrote:

Someone having their lunch in Piccadilly Circus a few hundred metres from the Mall, the finish of Monday’s third stage, wouldn’t have necessarily known that the world’s biggest bike race was about to steamroller through the nation’s capital. It was just one attraction among many. But as it neared its conclusion, and office doors opened and crash barriers swelled with the curious and the hard core, there was a strong sense of deja vu. London, like Yorkshire, had been smitten. Some even suggested the crowds were bigger than for the road races at the 2012 Olympics.

And it wasn’t just London. Saffron Walden swelled. Chelmsford clogged up. There were thousands in Epping Forest. And even along the long stretches of road between conurbations, where there was little but wheat or field or fauna, there were often lone cheerleaders urging the riders on. Union jacks were everywhere. It was like the Proms had started two weeks early – except the orchestra was thousands of times larger, and they were using klaxons and hands as their instruments.

Essex had far fewer of what I call field ornamentation — huge, decorative displays in farmers’ fields. Yet, as Ingle says, the spectators’ enthusiasm was excellent, particularly considering that it was a Monday.

However, after a sunny weekend in Yorkshire, the riders experienced a shower in central London which came right before the finish line. This made the final kilometre or two dangerous for them, especially as they had to negotiate quite a bit of ‘road furniture’ (e.g. bus lane dividers).

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the stage with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) finishing second. Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali wore the yellow jersey for the second day running.

London’s Evening Standard has a collection of photos of the day’s cycling and all the crowds.

The final verdict from the head of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme, was:

amazing, unforgettable, and the grandest Grand Départ ever.

He is quite certain the Tour will return to Britain in future — it’s more a matter of when:

“I am very happy people want us to be back but I don’t know exactly when,” he said. “We have many requests to host the Tour: from Holland, Belgium, Italy and Spain.

“What I do know is that the welcome was exceptional. London in 2007 was very special but these three days were unforgettable. I’ve had so many messages saying how beautiful it looked, how many people there were on the roadsides. It might seem abnormal to some French people to bring the Tour to England. I can say to them: just watch!”

ITV4′s commentators said that the Dutch are closely studying these three grand days out in England in preparation for 2015′s Grand Départ in Utrecht. We wish them much success and hope it goes as well as ours did.

Credit must also go to France2 and France3 for making even the most modest village or unassuming highway look beautiful and inviting. These two channels supply the race footage we see on television. Their cameramen, especially those filming from a helicopter for the aerial shots, have a real eye for composition and detail. Coverage wouldn’t be the same without them. Chapeau — or ‘hats off’ to them!

As yesterday’s post stated, this year’s Tour de France Grand Départ was such a success that a high profile Tour of Yorkshire could take place as early as May 2015.

We owe these two grand days out (as Wallace might say to Gromit) to Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire. The yellow ‘Y’ seen frequently during the Tour’s coverage of the first two stages is his organisation’s symbol.

The Guardian tells us that Verity had an early career in the City — London’s financial district — before starting a new life as a sheep farmer in Coverdale. He and his late wife Helen moved to Yorkshire when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009.

After Helen’s death, Verity threw himself into promoting Yorkshire as a tourist destination and got the Tour de France idea one morning whilst he was shaving. His fellow Yorkshiremen thought the idea was daft; after all, they reasoned, big events belong to rival Manchester, not Leeds, Harrogate, York or Sheffield.

The Guardian describes how events unfolded (emphases mine):

In the runup to the 2012 London Olympics, Verity sat on the nations and regions group and argued that Yorkshire needed its answer to Manchester’s 2002 Commonwealth Games …

He had borrowed a helicopter from a friend to fly in the French organisers of the Tour, including race director Christian Prudhomme. After a glass of lager and Yorkshire-pudding canapes, two stretch limos took the party on a tour of Middleham Castle, home of Richard III, Swinton Park and Harewood House. Dinner was provided by a Michelin-starred local chef and among the guests of honour was [Brian] Robinson, the first British winner of a Tour de France stage, back in 1958.

In the light of the Tour’s traditional links with the French equivalent of the National Farmers Union, Verity carefully stressed the agricultural angle, but the delegation’s visit ended with an urban coup de théâtre. On a walk through Leeds, the big television screen in Millennium Square switched from showing BBC News to a promotional film for Yorkshire’s bid, ending with a personal plea from cyclist Mark Cavendish.

“Christian Prudhomme’s jaw hit the ground at that point, and he later told me that was when he knew we could deliver the Grand Départ,” Verity has recalled. On the way to the Eurostar, Prudhomme confirmed that he was impressed. “Yorkshire,” he announced, “is very sexy.”

England has hosted Grand Départs before, most recently in London and Kent in 2007, with upwards of 1m spectators lining the routes each day. However, they are few and far between. Prior to 2007, these events took place in 1994 and 1974.

The British government favoured Edinburgh as a host city. After Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour and won a gold medal at the London Olympics, Yorkshire ramped up the lobbying. By December that year, Verity had signed a contract with Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation and the government allocated £10m to Yorkshire, including £1.75m from UK Sport.

Verity told The Guardian that he even found Amaury Sport Organisation’s fee ‘incredible value for money’.

The impossible is often possible: where there’s a will, there’s a way! A knighthood for this man, who clearly deserves it.

ITV4 commentators told their viewers that schools, businesses and private individuals banded together to make July 5 and 6, 2014, a success. And so they were!

An estimated 4m people lined the routes from Leeds to Harrogate and York to Sheffield. To those of us watching the coverage, however, it looked like most of Yorkshire showed up. The roads were not only lined with people but also resonated with a wall of noise — everywhere — from the cities to the Côte de Buttertubs and Côte de Blubberhouses. More than one person remarked that English names sound so much nicer in French!

Stage 1 began in Leeds with a ceremonial start (départ fictif), riding through the city for the 280,000 spectators there. The official start took place at Harewood (pron. ‘Harwood’) House where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry greeted the riders and everyone enjoyed the magnificent flypast by the Red Arrows. A brass band played the French and British national anthems, the Duchess of Cambridge cut the tape at the starting line — and the riders were off.

The climbs on both stages pleased the riders whose physiques are suited for such challenges. The weather co-operated in making Yorkshire’s welcome a special one. The density of people and narrowness of the roads added to the excitement which sometimes turned tense as riders made their way up hill and down dale.

Mark Cavendish had a Stage 1 win in mind, as his mother grew up in Harrogate. She was in the VIP stands there, near Prime Minister David Cameron. Unfortunately, just before the finish line, Cavendish tried to squeeze in front of Simon Gerrans in a ‘gap that wasn’t there’ and both of them hit the ground. Marcel Kittel went on to win the stage as Cavendish was taken to hospital. Gerrans is still in the Tour. Cavendish underwent surgery on his shoulder on Wednesday, July 9, and will probably need six weeks of recuperation.

Stage 2 began in the heart of York and went on to include nine climbs in five counties, including a small part of Greater Manchester. Once again, the scenery was beautiful everywhere and the spectators wildly enthusiastic. Those of us fancying the ambitions of the three remaining English riders hoped Chris Froome, last year’s Tour victor, would win the stage which concluded in Sheffield, but that privilege went to Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali.

For those who have not seen the Tour de France before, watching an afternoon of televised coverage is better than an hour of highlights. The Tour is about much more than 192 men cycling; it’s also about the terrain, the people and the festive atmosphere. Yorkshire had it in spades.

French journalist François Thomazeau filed an article for The Guardian after the first two Tour stages. He concluded:

In 2007, the passion for cycling was already spreading, but nobody would have believed that two local riders could take the yellow jersey to Paris within six years …

Cycling is now a household sport and Britons know almost as much about the Tour as we do. Perhaps even a little more. At least they know how to win it, something we have not been able to do for 30 years.

It seemed as though the whole of Yorkshire had left their homes to form a guard of honour to the peleton. Entire villages had used their best French to write banners cheering “Le Tour”, while union jacks and tricolores were flying proudly side by side in the light breeze.

Will cycling really be coming home on Tuesday when the Tour heads back to France? I am not so sure any more.

Christian Prudhomme, the Tour’s director, said the first two stages had been:

very special. [Five-times tour winner] Bernard Hinault said to me it is the first time in 40 years on a bike that he has seen crowds like we saw this weekend.

What you did was good for Yorkshire, for sure, but what you did was also good for the Tour. When you said you would deliver the grandest Grand Départ it was the truth. You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France.

Let’s hope this brings many more tourists to Yorkshire and future high profile cycling events.

Tomorrow’s post looks at Stage 3 from Cambridge to London.

Official 2014 Grand Départ MerchandiseThanks to the wildly successful Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France, Welcome to Yorkshire and Amaury Sport Organisation have submitted to the UCI a proposal for a three-day race scheduled for May 2015.

The event is provisionally called ‘Tour of Yorkshire’ and would be classified as a 2.1 UCI Europe Tour. This means that it would be aimed at attracting the world’s best cyclists as participants.

If the UCI approve the race, organisers hope that it would be a relatively regular feature on the cycling calendar.

The aforementioned press release includes enthusiastic quotes from Christian Prudhomme (Tour de France), Gary Verity (Welcome to Yorkshire) and Jonny Clay (British Cycling) on what could turn out to be an important and tangible legacy of the Tour de France for this beautiful English county, highlighted to the world on the first weekend in July.

The Grand Départ 2014 site also has a number of grateful tweets from Tour de France participants. Yorkshire gave them a superlative welcome, that’s for sure!

More on that tomorrow!

I noticed in the Telegraph jobs section that their job of the week (May 12, 2014) is for the Rector of St Bride’s in the City of London.

The current incumbent, the Venerable David Meara formally retired as rector on Easter Day 2014 but will stay on in a pastoral capacity until the end of July, at which time he and his wife Rosemary will return to Oxford.

Most Englishmen know that St Bride‘s is the church of those who work in some capacity with the written word — most recently in its history, journalists and photographers, even if newspapers moved out of the Fleet Street vicinity further east to Canary Wharf over 20 years ago. Their memorial services page includes the names of several journalists.

Historically, prior to the Reformation, communities of monks, such as the Blackfriars, lived near St Paul’s Cathedral, which looked much different before the Fire of London in 1666. As was true throughout Europe, these monks were responsible for creating manuscripts, some of which are in museums around the world, especially the British Museum.

When the printing press was invented during the Renaissance — also the time of the Reformation — William Caxton established his printing business in this same part of London because the cathedral and clergy would require books. By the 17th century, authors and poets lived in the area. They included John Milton, John Dryden and Samuel Richardson, among others. Richardson, incidentally, was a publisher prior to writing the first modern English novel, Pamela.

Today, St Bride’s is not only the church for those involved in media generally but is also affiliated with several of the ancient City and Livery Companies which grew out of the mediaeval guilds, specialising in nearly anything and everything to do with craftsmanship, from glovers to shipwrights.

Therefore, the future rector of St Bride’s needs to be able to communicate effectively not only with the great and good from the City, London’s oldest borough north of the River Thames, but also with a broad congregation of Londoners who worship there.

The new rector also needs to respect the church’s history, structure and worship traditions.

He must also be a strong, godly leader.

Of course, his primary responsibility is to preach the Gospel to all who enter St Bride’s and to pursue outreach work in Christ’s name.

To give you an idea of how Mr Meara carried out these responsibilities, an article on their website says:

He has greatly enjoyed his ministry at St Bride’s, during which the church has maintained and grown its links with the newspaper and wider media industry, completed a successful £3.5 million re-endowment appeal, expanded its involvement with the City and Livery Companies, grown its volunteer base, and maintained and enhanced the Sunday worshipping congregations served by their splendid professional choir. The fabric has been conserved and improved, and the first phase of an ambitious £2.5 million restoration project successfully completed.

As Archdeacon of London, David has overseen the development of thematic and pioneering ministries in a number of City churches, modernising their governance structures and raising the amount raised by City churches towards the Common Fund to nearly 100%.

A long-standing worshipper at St Bride’s, journalist and PR man Ernest Bevin, wrote an open letter of thanks to Mr Meara, who is also Archdeacon of London. It says, in part (emphasis in the original):

You will leave our famous Wren church, surely a gift from God, in even better shape than when you inherited it. Since your arrival, you must hold the world record for presiding at memorial services for the great and the good of the media world and beyond, not to mention the almost weekly baptisms, numerous weddings, other special services and the daily Eucharist. And then there were your many connections with the Livery companies in the City of London.  During all of this time, you demonstrated, without wanting to, what a gifted priest you are, with not a glimmer of faux grandiloquence either in meeting parishioners, or delivering your fascinating and often inspiring sermons.  I always felt, and many others agree, that your mission in life is admirably suited to your calling.

I was terribly impressed when you led the team to organise the Queen’s visit to St Bride’s in 2007 – which was almost 50 years to the day after she was in the church for its rededication. During the run up to that historical and wonderful event, it was almost as if you swapped your dog collar for a white shirt and a Guild tie, becoming Mr Unflappable without the slightest hint of panic in your voice or body language, riding us over problems as if they didn’t exist!

It came as no surprise when the Bishop of London appointed you to be his right hand man, which promoted you from Canon to Archdeacon. Now historically in the Church of England, Archdeacons have a bit of a reputation for being pompous, aloof or sometimes, bon viveurs.  But not you, David, you carried on preaching the Gospel as if nothing had happened, although we all knew that so much was happening in your ecclesiastical workload, but your beloved St Bride’s went from strength to strength.

The Bishop of London, the Right Revd Richard Chartres, sums up the type of person who would serve St Bride’s well:

What is required in my judgement is someone who is first and foremost a priest and pastor of character and commitment. The opportunities for ministering to those who operate in the stressful sphere of journalism are very great and the post requires someone of considerable talent.

I pray that St Bride’s finds a suitable new rector soon.  The post will require an extraordinary person!

You can read more about the job here.


BBC logoToday, four of us — three English and one hybrid — discussed the BBC’s Great British Menu, now in its ninth season.

This year, British chefs from across the UK — some who have at least one Michelin star to their name — are competing to cook for the remaining veterans of D-Day, who are able to attend a banquet at St Paul’s Cathedral, London. A good friend of mine remarked that he hoped the actual banquet would not take place in the cathedral proper. I agree. We shall have to wait and see.

SpouseMouse and I found the first four weeks lacklustre. Does one seriously expect the veterans –  ‘old soldiers’ in UK parlance — to eat cheap (albeit tasty) cuts of meat or fish such as pigeon, gurnard, or braising steak?

We’re talking about now elderly men who gave up their youth to fight for our freedom. Yet, oddly, ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ is never mentioned by the chefs cooking on this show. Granted, the chefs are young enough to be the veterans’ grandchildren, but there seems to be a disconnect as to the signifcance of D-Day itself.

D-Day refers to the Normandy landings of the Second World War which took place on Tuesday, June 6, 1944.

It was an unbelievably fraught time of anxiety, adrenaline, fear and courage combined with the spirit of Winston Churchill.

Twelve countries assisted Churchill’s United Kingdom. This post is not meant to describe what exactly happened. However, the Allies’ efforts ended in a magnificent victory for both freedom and liberty.

So, let us consider this so-called banquet. The Friday judges — the usual Great British Menu trio of Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton along with civilians and military personnel who remembered or took part in the Second World War — have to decide if each dish from a traditionally four-course menu is, as they say, ‘banquet worthy’.

Frankly, many — but not all — of the offerings from the previous four weeks have been dreadful.

A number of cheffy contestants have said, ‘I borrowed my nan’s ['grandmother's', please!] recipe for [something awful]‘.

These youngsters, as they appear, think they are novel in giving Britain’s finest men (and probably a few women) dishes they have probably eaten since being demobbed in 1944 to now.

Honestly, would anyone want humble dishes at a banquet?

So far, the only team of chefs who seem to fit the bill with banquet worthy food are those from the South East of England and London.

All of the aforementioned people discussing this show, myself included, wondered what these chefs would offer grandparents or parents celebrating their 50th or 60th wedding anniversaries. Probably lobster, caviar and all the very best meats or fish, accompaniments and desserts.

Whilst long-standing wedding anniversaries are certainly significant milestones in life, especially today, frankly, they do not compare with the British fighting alongside their Allies from around the globe for the freedom and liberty of the Western world.

Viewers’ hopes — at least those of whom I know — rest on a four-course banquet which recalls memories of wartime, Normandy landings and victory. However, we all hope that the chefs will really give these veterans the huge culinary thank you which they richly deserve.

A banquet alone does not suffice — and other celebrations are planned — but a superbly sumptuous feast will go some way to express a nation’s gratitude to a group of seniors who have seen more of life and death than many of us ever will.

Three weeks remain before we find out the results. May the best and most dignified dishes win.

Four years ago, I wrote a series on halal meat:

UK: Halal by stealth?

Halal: unavoidable when it’s all about export and cost-cutting

France: The evolution of halal

Halal, Africa and the Christian life

Halal and the Christian conscience

These are also available on my Recipes / Health / History page under ‘Halal’.

On April 30, 2014, Subway hit the news with their announcement that new outlets might well sell halal-only meat products

to ensure that the population demographic is taken into account

even though their policy has been in place since 2007.

When I wrote my halal series in 2010, the US-owned chain had 119 halal-only branches.

Today that number is 185.

However, Subway has 1,500 stores altogether in the UK and Ireland. That means the vast majority will still be selling pork products.

Subway’s halal-only outlets have a sign in the front window clearly indicating their status.

Subway operates on the franchise model, which is the norm for fast food chains. As such, the franchise owner would take the decision on what sort of meat to serve.

As for me, I’ve never been in a Subway and have no intention of doing so.

In ‘Halal and the Christian Conscience’, I cited Australia’s Christian commentator Bill ‘Culturewatch’ Muehlenberg who wrote (emphases mine):

Christian concerns have to do with how Halal meats are ritually slaughtered. In this process (which can only be carried out by a Muslim), the Muslim prays to Allah while facing Mecca. Arguments can be made about how humane the process is, and groups like the RSPCA claim it is less humane than traditional slaughter methods.

But what about this ritual, and the prayers to a false God? Several Biblical passages speak to this, including Acts 15:28-29, 1 Cor 8, and 1 Cor 10:14-33. The latter text for example speaks about foods offered to idols. Paul says in vv 19-20, “Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.”

The question is whether eating Halal meats fits into this warning. It may well, and we need to proceed with caution here. If we accept the biblical worldview that there is one God, and that this God is not Allah, then those worshipping Allah are worshipping a false God.

Both Testaments make it clear that false religions are associated with the demonic, and thus this is a genuine matter of concern. But sadly even many Christians are quite confused about all this …

It seems to me there are two main worries here. One is the ever encroaching inroads made by Islam in the West, along with the gradual diminutions of our freedoms. The other is the sloppy and unbiblical thinking found in so many people calling themselves Christians.

It is interesting that, even in non-Muslim areas of the UK, a number mom-and-pop takeaway shops are Muslim-owned — despite the British or American names and themes of fish and chips or pizza and fried chicken. We receive a lot of their flyers in our letterbox. All have the halal symbol on the menu.

Therefore, takeaway is not an option in our household.

Nor are so-called ‘Indian’ restaurants, which, being mostly Muslim-owned and operated, serve halal meat.

A new channel showing vintage American classics recently launched in Britain.

BonanzaBonanza (Freeview 64) not only shows a lot of episodes of the famous Western, as its name implies, but also an eclectic variety of American television classics from the 1950s and 1960s including The Lone Ranger and the original Dragnet.

Having grown up on the second incarnation, still with Jack Webb as Sgt Joe Friday, but with Harry ‘MASH’ Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon, I was surprised to see old black and white versions.

Yet, it is instructive to find that crime hasn’t changed much since the postwar years and Los Angeles had its fill even then of armed robbery, murder, gang fights and immigrants innocently skirting the periphery of the dark side of the City of Angels.

Chesterfield sponsored the original version of the show and during the commercial breaks Webb would have given a short, scripted spiel. (Photo credit: That is how advertising was done then. A network pitched a show to a well known corporation which then sponsored the programme. The show’s stars then advertised that company’s products at the beginning, middle and end of the programme: often cars, a brand of petrol or home appliances. This type of star-delivered advert disappeared in the early 1960s but was preceded by an announcer in the background solemnly saying:

And now a word from [about] our sponsor …

As you can see, the adverts translated nicely into print. They reminded the reader to watch the show and buy the sponsor’s products.

If I remember rightly, radio is where the star-sponsor advert style began and carried over into television.

Jack Webb himself was the brains behind Dragnet, which began life as a radio show. Although I greatly enjoyed Dragnet‘s run from 1967 through 1970, I began watching the old 1950s black and white episodes with greater concentration.

I notice that in many of the episodes from 1957, Webb’s narration, which ties in with contemporary film from Los Angeles, mentions the Church. The camera shows at least one church, normally in California Mission style, and, on occasion, shows another. Of course, Webb is matter of fact in his presentation, but the camera lingers on them as if to impart a suggestion to the viewer just as he is about to see a true crime story.

It is this mention of churches which made me interested in Webb as a person.

What you are about to read is true. Unlike Dragnet, however, the names have not been changed to protect the innocent.

The Old Time Radio Bulletin features a revealing article from The Milwaukee Sentinel which appeared on September 12, 1954. Maurice Zolotow, the journalist, tells us ‘The True Story of Jack Webb’. Not only did he meet Webb, he also looked for interviews with his mother to get the inside track. Some of Zolotow’s discoveries appear below.


Jack was born on April 2, 1920 in Santa Monica, California, to Margaret ‘Maggie’ Smith, a Catholic of Irish and Native American ancestry, and Samuel Chester Webb, who was Jewish.

The two fell in love just after the First World War. Jack never knew much about his father except that he was, in Zolotow’s words, ‘a wartime hero’. The couple married, his father still in uniform, and Jack was born a year later. In 1921, the Webbs divorced.

Jack never knew his dad. He had fled the scene for good. Mrs Webb never mentioned him and, even as a child, Jack never asked.Yet, he could sense he stood apart from other boys his age; he had no one to teach him the things boys learn — from dads.

Incidentally, I knew a boy in the same situation. As much as he loved his mother, psychologically, things were very difficult for him growing up. School projects and discussions about Father’s Day drove him to tears. (In his country, school is still in session in June.) To this day — he would now be in his early 30s — I do not think he knows his father’s identity.

Mrs Webb returned with Jack to her mother in San Francisco. Grandma Smith lived on a huge estate left her by her late husband who worked for the railroad. There should have been enough money for all three of them for a long time, however, within three years it was gone.

Zolotow says they moved to Los Angeles when Jack was three. Wikipedia specifies that it was the Bunker Hill neighbourhood. (This part of town underwent slum clearance in the 1950s and was transformed into a modern high-rise business district.)

Zolotow describes the Webbs living at Third and Flowers Street, just south of Main. They had a one-bedroom flat with a kitchen. The communal bathroom, shared by 12 tenants, was down the hall. That was no place for a little boy to be.

According to Zolotow, Mrs Webb helped to run the block of flats during the day. At night, she was the cashier in a neighbourhood cafe. Jack knew his mother was too well educated and too much of a lady to be in that situation. He couldn’t fathom what had happened.

In the late 1920s, he and his mother moved from Bunker Hill to Echo Park. Jack attended Our Lady of Loretto School and served as an altar boy.

Zolotow’s article tells us that, previously, Jack dreaded school. He was a sickly child; his slight frame and jug ears made him a target for bullies.

On one occasion, Mrs Webb, working as a shop clerk in Bunker Hill at the time, managed to save enough money to buy him a new shirt and a leatherette pencil case for his seventh birthday. Not long after, on the way home, a bully confronted Jack, grabbed his shirt and, in doing so, pulled off the buttons. The bully’s pals then stepped in to beat up little Jack, alone and defenceless, leaving him wondering if he would survive.

Just then, Zolotow’s article says that Jack felt an adult’s arm and saw a blue sleeve. It was a policeman who sent the bullies packing then got down to the business of putting Jack’s pens, pencils and eraser back into his new, but probably scuffed, pencil case.

Zolotow reasons (emphases mine):

A lot of kids think of a cop as a mortal enemy.  To Jack this cop represented decency and justice.  Maybe he also represented a symbol for the father he was always unconsciously seeking.  Maybe what Webb has done in Dragnet, in paying tribute to the hard-working men of the police force, is his way of saying “thanks” to the cop who befriended a small boy 27 years ago.

After finishing his studies at Our Lady of Loretto, Jack attended nearby Belmont High. Both schools are close to downtown Los Angeles.

At Belmont, he was elected student body president. This was no mean feat as it was the largest high school in the city at that time. His words to the students in the 1938 edition of Campanile, their high school yearbook, read:

… you who showed me the magnificent warmth of friendship which I know, and you know, I will carry with me forever.


Both Our Lady of Loretto and Belmont High gave Jack the opportunity to read and discover the world of imagination. Zolotow says Jack suffered from asthma from the ages of 8 to 17. In all seriousness, I imagine he began smoking later on in high school and the symptoms cleared. I’ve known several asthmatics; some respond well to smoking and others do not.

In any event, during his asthmatic years, as he couldn’t tolerate too much physical activity, Jack began reading library books, especially adventure classics.

But there is something else. Zolotow’s article tells us that Mrs Webb said in a previous interview:

Almost any time I looked out the window, my boy was looking in trash cans.  Always searching for something.  He didn’t know what. 

The armchair psychologist in me says this might have been a subconscious displacement activity in looking for a lost father.

One day, whilst rummaging around, young Jack found a broken crayon. He began drawing on old paper bags. Mrs Webb saved up enough money to buy him crayons and a proper sketch pad. Jack took to drawing and, according to his mother, sketched anything and everything.

Along with art and reading came a love for jazz, nurtured by a neighbour living in the same building. The man was once a professional cornet player; then he fell on hard times, aggravated by alcohol. He played the cornet for Jack and introduced him to Bix Beiderbecke. Jack listened to the records the neighbour played on his Victrola; these gave him a lifelong love of jazz and Beiderbecke’s music. When the neighbour was evicted for rent arrears, he gave Jack a copy of Beiderbecke’s 1930 recording of At the Jazz Band Ball. Jack went on to collect more of Bix’s music and, along the way, also became a fan of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. When Zolotow met him, Webb had managed to collect a copy of every record Beiderbecke had ever made.

Tantalisingly, the other instalments of Zolotow’s article on Webb are lost to history. The next one would have revealed (italics in the original):

how Jack Webb passed up a chance to inherit a prosperous plumbing business, and a scholarship that might have led to a career as an artist, to hang around radio studios and pick up many of the tricks at which he later became a master. 

The start of a career

After graduating from Belmont High, Webb studied art at St John’s University, Collegeville,  Minnesota. Even today, the university continues to follow the Benedictine values modelled after Christ’s life.

When the United States entered the Second World War, Webb enlisted in the US Air Force but ‘washed out’ of flight training. He obtained a hardship discharge as he was the sole provider for his mother and grandmother.

In 1946, Webb got his own eponymous comedy show in San Francisco on ABC’s KGO radio. By the end of the decade, he had switched from comedy to drama via another radio show, this time on KFRC, called Pat Novak for Hire. It was about an unlicensed private detective and co-starred Raymond Burr.

Webb also broke into film in 1948 with a role as a crime lab technician in He Walked by Night, the true story of a California Highway Patrolman who was murdered in 1946. That was the time when film noir with its dissolute criminals and corrupt police was highly popular. He Walked by Night, however, was semi-documentary in style with Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn (LAPD) providing technical assistance.


During filming, Webb considered a series which would profile more real-life crime cases. He talked his ideas over with Wynn. Dragnet premiered on NBC radio in 1949 and ran until 1957.

NBC television picked up a few episodes each season starting in 1952. It seems the television series began in earnest once the radio show ended. The television series ran until 1959.

Dragnet was a near-instant hit as soon as it aired — on television and radio. Webb wanted to portray the police to the public and LAPD superiors as underrated working class heroes. However, if there was wrongdoing or corruption on the part of the police, he would air it. The LAPD at the time was known for not paying decent wages and for dismissing officers who had become ill or injured in the line of duty.

The show was largely produced under the aegis of Webb’s Mark VII production company. Mark VII began in 1951 and operated until Webb’s death in 1982. If you’ve ever watched to the end of a Dragnet episode, the following will be familiar:

The Mark VII production logo depicted a pair of grimy, sweaty hands working on a silver sheet of metal, holding a stamp in place and hitting it twice (and, in later years, once) with a hammer. From 1954 to 1977, a drum roll sounded. When the hands and tools pull away, a “VII” is seen imprinted on the metal. Above the Roman numeral in white is the word “MARK,” and below “LIMITED.” The hands were later revealed to be those of Jack Webb himself. There are several different variations of this logo. describes Webb’s production values as follows:

his Mark VII productions routinely used minimal sets, even more minimal wardrobes (Friday and Gannon seem to wear the same suits over entire seasons, which minimized continuity issues) and maintained a relatively tight-knit stock company that consisted of scale-paid regulars who routinely appeared as irate crime victims, policewomen, miscreants and clueless parents of misguided youth … During the production of Dragnet 1967 (1967), he maintained a rigorous daily work schedule while ignoring his health. He loved chili dogs and cigarettes, enjoyed late nights playing cards and drinking with cast members who were amazed to find him fully alert at 7 a.m. the next day, expecting the same from them. The combined effect of this lifestyle made him appear older than he actually was by the late 60′s.

What doesn’t mention are the tight scripts, the interesting stories, the varied main characters, scenes and witnesses. All these combined — and this was the genius of Jack Webb — make a compelling half-hour crime drama based on real police cases. Actually, less than 30 minutes, once one factors in ad breaks. Wherever it’s shown today, people still tune in. Maybe they’ve seen the series or the episode before. Maybe they haven’t. It’s excellent, timeless television — including the second series which aired from 1967 to 1970 and was still getting good ratings when it ended.

Subsequent series

Webb was ultimately interested in more than Dragnet, which isn’t surprising, given that he had spent the 1940s and 1950s on radio, television and in film at the same time. It seemed, therefore, that Dragnet was part of his life but he didn’t intend for it to define him.

Webb had roles in two minor films in 1959 and 1961. Neither did well at the box office.

In 1963, Warner Brothers Television hired him as Head of Production. One of his duties was to revamp 77 Sunset Strip. Some readers might remember the theme tune. Ratings plummeted and Webb pursued other options.

Interestingly, one of these concerned Jeffrey Hunter, who had played Jesus in the 1961 version of King of Kings, directed by Nicholas Ray.

Webb and Hunter set up their own company, Apollo Productions, to make the television series Temple Houston which ran between 1963 and 1964. It was Hunter’s only television series in which he regularly starred. And it was Webb’s only successful series sale to a television network — NBC — whilst he was Head of Production at Warner Brothers Television. The show was a light version of the cases which Sam Houston’s son Temple Lea Houston dealt with as a lawyer. A critic described it as ‘Perry Mason out West’. Although it was short-lived, 26 episodes aired.

Dragnet reappeared after an updated pilot film in 1966. Harry Morgan co-starred as Officer Bill Gannon in the new series with Webb in 1967. However, times were changing and, although it was popular with audiences, young adult viewers sided more with the criminal than Friday and Gannon. This was the Vietnam War era, after all, and putting someone in the slammer was pretty uncool; police were seen as oppressors.

I remember great episodes though, most of which explained the psychological aspect to the crime. One particularly sad one dealt with a young rapist who never knew his father. His mother, then his grandmother brought him up, rather harshly. He grew to become a misogynist. His way of getting back at the women in his family was by raping other women. It was very sad, indeed.

Webb had more luck with the 70s and 80s generations. His subsequent productions  included Adam-12 and Emergency. He had no televisual role in either.

Private life

Webb was married four times. His first wife, the beautiful actress Julie London, bore him two daughters, Stacy and Lisa. Stacy collaborated on a book of Webb’s life called Just the Facts, Ma’am; The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb, Creator of Dragnet, Adam-12, and Emergency! She died in a car accident in 1996 three years before it was published. Lisa, born in 1952, survives her.

Webb and London divorced in 1954 after being married for seven years. He married Dorothy Towne in 1955 and divorced her in 1957. He married former Miss USA Jackie Loughery in 1958, divorcing her in 1964. Then came a long hiatus until he married Opal Wright in 1980.

Webb died in 1982 at the age of 62. The LAPD gave him a funeral with full police honours. They also retired the badge number he used in Dragnet: 714.

At the time Webb suffered his fatal heart attack, he was putting together a third series of Dragnet with a new co-star, Kent McCord.

I couldn’t find out how or if Catholicism fit into Webb’s later life. Perhaps the divorces created a perceived state of no return for him.

However, the self-discipline he must have learned at Our Lady of Loretto and the Benedictine values at St John’s University served him well professionally.

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